GENEVA (Reuters) - Footballers should not be considered among the priority groups for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on Monday.
Some countries have begun vaccinating athletes or plan to inoculate them ahead of the Olympic Games, due to be held in Tokyo from July 23, drawing criticism.
But Infantino, who was launching a joint campaign with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to promote fair access to vaccines, said he was not a supporter of footballers jumping the queue.
"The priority for the vaccines is, of course, the people at risk and for health workers. This is very clear in our mind. I don't consider, we don't consider, football players as a priority group in this respect," he told a news conference.
"Of course for safety reasons, in the context of the months to come, in the context of international competitions and travel, vaccination might be recommended at some point and the Olympic Games are, of course, only in the summer.
"But all this will happen, of course, respecting the established order of distribution. There are people who are at risk and these people should have priority of course and it is not football players or officials," he added.
Infantino said he was, however, confident that stadiums would be full at next year's World Cup in Qatar.
"I am very, very confident (it) will be incredible, will have the same magic, uniting the world. We will be back to where we have to be," he said.
The tournament is due to be held in Qatar in November and December 2022 and will feature 32 nations.
"COVID will be defeated by then. If in two years' time we are not there yet, we will all have a bigger problem than a World Cup," he said.
Qualifying games for the tournament have already begun in Asia and South America and are due to start in Europe in March.
Asked about the wisdom of holding international games in the current situation, Infantino said those games would take place under a "clear health protocol which would not put at risk the health of anyone".
"It is always a balance that we have to take but we need to respect the decisions of governments all over the world... the situation is very, very different all over the world.
"We will monitor the situation in the coming weeks, we can see the situation is evolving week by week.
"The international games will be held in March; by then we will assess the situation and see where we can play and in what conditions but we will certainly not take any risks with the health of anyone when we play football," he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge in Geneva Simon Evans in Manchester and Michael Shields in Zurich; Writing by Simon Evans; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Clare Fallon)